Weatherford Democrat

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November 1, 2012

Program to help capital murder defendants, save county money

— Parker County commissioners recently voted to join the Regional Public Defender for Capital Cases program, an action that could save the county thousands of dollars during the prosecution of expensive capital murder cases.

The program, funded through the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, represents defendants who are charged with the offense of capital murder and are eligible for the death penalty but cannot afford to hire their own attorneys.

The organization helps participating smaller counties meet the legal requirement to provide access to counsel for those defendants by providing a core team of four — two qualified attorneys, a mitigation specialist and a fact investigator — as well funds for an investigation.

The program, which began accepting cases in November of 2007, became available to Parker County and other small counties in northeast and north central Texas Oct. 1.

Parker County, which hasn’t tried a capital murder case since 2001, currently has four capital murder cases pending.

County Judge Mark Riley said Parker County would save a lot of money if a capital case goes to trial.

“[With this program], attorneys are provided for capital murder defendants,” Riley told the court, “and they handle everything, with the exception of expert witnesses and things like that.”

Current cases

Parker County currently has four capital murder cases pending, though the two most recent October cases have yet to be presented to a grand jury for indictment.

The death penalty has been waived for John Paul Webb, accused of killing his 1-month-old son in October 2010, and for Rodney Chase Pettigrew, accused of killing his girlfriend’s 1-year-old son in September 2011.

Seventeen-year-old Jacob Evans, charged with capital murder in the shooting deaths of his mother and sister earlier this month, will not face the death penalty, either.

Though 17-year-olds are considered adults under Texas criminal law, a 2005 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roper v. Simmons made 18 the new minimum death penalty age, according to Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain.

It’s not yet clear whether Hector Trejo, accused of violently slashing and stabbing the throat and neck of a woman earlier this month who reportedly refused to let him borrow her car, will face the death penalty.

His attorneys, however, newly appointed by the program, are preparing for just that.

“The statute for the appointment of counsel in capital cases ... the presumption is that it’s a death case unless the prosecutor affirmatively waives the death penalty in writing,” Stoffregen said. “If there is no waiver, the assumption is the prosecutor will seek death.”

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